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Sundance 2011: Tobey Maguire finds the devil in 'The Details'

January 24, 2011 |  9:03 pm

Many of the movies that play the Sundance Film Festival fall into distinct genres: the hard drama, the dysfunctional-family comedy, the late-night horror flick.

A neat box is not something into which you'd place "The Details," starring Tobey Maguire. Fundamentally a black comedy, Jacob Aaron Estes' sophomore directorial effort veers toward infidelity melodrama, outrageous spoof, "American Beauty"-style suburban parable and a few other places before coming back around again. It was such a tonal grab bag that, when the movie world-premiered Monday night at the festival, there were moments that seemed designed for drama that elicited laughter, and vice versa.

"The Details" centers on Dr. Jeffrey Lang (Maguire), a man trapped in an unhappy marriage with Nealy (Elizabeth Banks). The couple's troubles increase when Jeffrey discovers raccoons causing mayhem in the backyard. Far from being manageable house pests, the critters set off a chain reaction.

It's impossible to describe all of the events here, but they entail an affair for Lang with a bonkers next-door neighbor (Laura Linney), a fling with an attractive former medical-school classmate (Kerry Washington), an unfortunate incident with a bow and arrow, a piano falling from the sky and, in a moment of karmic turnaround, an act of kidney donation. Among other things.

"It really was an impulsive writing exercise," Estes said at question-and-answer session after the screening, surprisingly dispassionate given the melange that had just unfolded behind him.

Maguire, known usually for playing the sensitive guy, here plays a man whose conscience seems to wax and wane. He was last seen as the cuckolded husband in "Brothers." He more than has his revenge here.

(Incidentally, the actor has mostly been out of the limelight since falling out of the "Spider-Man" franchise, but he seemed as popular as ever when he took the stage, even eliciting cooing when he played with his on-screen son.)

Estes, a screenwriter whose first directorial effort was the teen-revenge thriller "Mean Creek," had several moments of nonchalance when audience members pressed him on the film's more absurd moments. "I honestly don't remember," he said once, and casually commented that he "forgot" when asked why he didn't tie up a particular loose end.

But the crowd seemed to appreciate the screening just the same. As attendees filtered out of the theater, we overheard one person calling "The Details," flatteringly, "A Sundance movie." With the film resisting so much other description, that may be the best label of all.

--Steven Zeitchik and Amy Kaufman in Park City, Utah



Photo: 'The Details.' Credit: Sundance FIlm Festival

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